Tag Archives: Vancouver

Vancouver faces stark contrasts between funding for K to 12 and university

Vancouver faces stark contrasts between funding for K to 12 and university
Vancouver Observer
October 7, 2016

Vancouver, the city of disparities, is faced with polar opposites in its educational system.

The contrast between K-12 schools and the university in Vancouver could not be more stark: The schools sinking in debt with rapidly declining enrolments and empty seats versus the university swimming in cash and bloating quotas to force excessive enrolments beyond capacity.

With central offices just 7km or 12 minutes apart, the two operate as if in different hemispheres or eras: the schools laying off teachers and planning to close buildings versus the university given a quota for preparing about 650 teachers for a glutted market with few to no jobs on the remote horizon in the largest city of the province.

There is a gateway from grade 12 in high school to grade 13 in the university but from a finance perspective there appears an unbreachable wall between village and castle.

Pundits and researchers are nonetheless mistaken in believing that the Vancouver schools’ current $22m shortfall is disconnected from the university’s $36m real estate windfall this past year.

The schools are begging for funds from the Liberals, who, after saying no to K-12, turn around to say yes to grades 13-24 and pour money into the University of British Columbia, no questions asked.

There may be two ministries in government, Education and Advanced Education; there is but one tax-funded bank account.

At first glance, the cheques suggest parity across the Vancouver system. For 2016-17, the schools, with about 49,000 students get a base operating grant of $436m and the university, with about 42,000 students gets a base of $420m. So what’s the problem?

One is left to birth and migration rates while the other is manipulated with enrolment quotas. For each decrease of enrolment in the Vancouver schools the University ironically matches with an increase of teachers for the job market.

UBC’s Faculty of Education, which could be financially assisting the schools to meet this historic shortfall, is instead bloated with a $2.6m deficit partially to maintain a quota for a steady flood of new teachers into Vancouver.

With the building boom at UBC, in March the Faculty of Education occupied a floor and a half of the new Ponderosa Commons building, despite about two floors of unoccupied or underutilized space in its Scarfe building. Education’s share of the $57m building is $18m.

At the same time 21 Vancouver schools were scheduled for closure or demolition to meet a shortfall the government gave a $19.5m windfall to renovate UBC’s Life Sciences building.

Wheeling and dealing, the Liberal government is robbing Peter to pay Paul, demoralizing Petra to pump up Paulette.

UBC appears to be throwing money around like it grows on Endowment Land trees. With the Vancouver real estate boom, it does.

The short history of UBC at 100 years is that it was born spoiled with a sizeable estate in 1915-1916 and remains spoiled in 2016-2017.

Through the stroke of a pen in 1858, Queen Victoria created the colony of British Columbia and transformed First Nations traditional territory into Crown Land. In 1907, an amendment to the BC Land Act granted 3,000 acres (5 sq. miles) to a University Endowment.

UBC property sits precariously on unceded Musqueam territory aggressively developed by settlers into prime Vancouver real estate over the past century and most aggressively since 1988 when the UBC Real Estate Corporation (Properties Trust) was established. In 1994 UBC converted 200 acres of its campus and Endowment Lands into condo and shopping centre development.

By 2003, as University Hill Secondary school was crammed and the urban plan expanded, so flush with cash was the university that its Properties Trust offered to bankroll renovations to its National Research Council (NRC) building and charge the busted VSB a monthly lease. In 2008, the Liberals stepped in, effectively saving the university from a $37.9m renovation.

The Vancouver Schools have had to defer $700m of building maintenance costs while UBC has announced plans for an $822 million building boom on it campus, with generous commitments from the Ministry.

As in real estate goes demographics: from boom to bust, the empty seats in Vancouver schools will inevitably be empty seats in the university. Like the VSB, it won’t be long before UBC begins to schedule the closure or demolition of empty academic buildings, that is, if someone opens the doors to realize there’s no one inside.

With more and more faculty members preferring to work at home, save for staff, empty offices are making hollow buildings the norm.

The Ministry is now threatening to fire the School Board for suspending school closure and demolition plans but when the University Board colludes to hide decisions from access and scrutiny the Ministry looks the other way.

Vancouver is now desperate to resolve the deepest school finance crisis and worst university administrative legitimacy crisis in 100 years. False distinctions between the two or the success of one at the expense of the other are at the root of the crises.

It’s the story of Vancouver: Broke and barely making it versus fixed, rich, and laughing all the way to the bank: 99% versus 1%.

Stephen Petrina and E. Wayne Ross are professors in the Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Documentary on East Van’s Purple Thistle Centre – Common Notions: No Handbook Required

Carla Bergman, Corin Browne and John Collins have made a film about The Purple Thistle Centre, which will be screened at the DOXA film festival:

Common Notions: No Handbook Required
Wednesday, May 11, 2016 – 5:00pm
Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour St)

For almost 15 years, the youth-run arts and activism space, the Purple Thistle, has been home for a variety of activities, from guerilla gardening to DIY publishing and screen-printing. Common Notions: Handbook Not Required is not only a celebration of the Thistle’s achievements, it’s a manifesto for the youth liberation movement. An array of alternative education advocates and scholars including Astra Taylor, Gustavo Esteva, and Madhu Suri Prakash, as well as local organizer Khelsilem, make a compelling case for democratizing knowledge and re-imagining our current systems of education. They argue that institutionalized schools, as we currently know and understand them, offer an extremely narrow and commodified definition of what it means to teach and to learn. Consensus decision-making, inclusivity, and a strict “noassholism” policy are just some of the Thistle’s guiding principles. Last year, the Thistle officially closed its doors. But this isn’t necessarily all bad news. Youth members and staff facilitators say the spirit of the collective will carry on in different permutations. After all, the Thistle was never meant to be an institution, but a path to a different way of experiencing the world. -SC


Common Notions: Handbook Not Required Trailer from John Collins on Vimeo.

Announcing the Purple Thistle Institute! Radical social change from below

Announcing the Purple Thistle Institute!

The Purple Thistle in East Vancouver, Coast Salish Territory is super‐pleased to announce that in JULY 2011 we will be running a three‐week summer institute. We’d be thrilled if you would consider attending.

WHAT IS IT? The PTI will be something like an alternative university, or maybe better: an alternative‐to-university.

The idea is to bring together a bunch of engaged, interested people to talk about theory, ideas and practise for radical social change. We’ll have a great time, meet good people, get our praxis challenged and with luck refine and renew our ideas, politics and energies.

Importantly, the conversations will very deliberately cut across radical orientations – anarchists, socialists, lefties, progressives, anti‐colonialists, anti‐authoritarians, ecologists of all stripes are welcome.

The idea is to work, think and talk together – to articulate and comprehend differences sure – but to find common ground, get beyond factionalized pettiness and stimulate radical ecological and egalitarian social change. We want to get good people with good ideas together to talk and listen to each other.

WHEN IS BEING HELD? July 4th – 23rd, 2011

WHAT WILL THE SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE? Essentially all three weeks will follow the same pattern. We will be running 6 days a week with Sundays off. We will be offering 8 morning classes of which participants will be able to choose up to four to attend. Then we will all have lunch together, then every afternoon community work placements will be offered. Evenings will be a mix of open‐space activities, shows, speakers, films and free time.

WHAT WILL THE CLASSES BE LIKE? We have put together an awesome roster of instructors and speakers including Astra Taylor, Cecily Nicholson, Carla Bergman, Am Johal, Matt Hern, Geoff Mann, Glen Coulthard and lots more. The classes will be fairly rigourous (loosely at an upper‐year university level) and include a certain amount of reading and some writing. Attendance is not mandatory and you can engage with as much or as little as you like. The classes include: Decolonization, Activist Art, Urban Studies, Deschooling, Understanding Economics, Contemporary Social Philosophy and Critical Theory.

WHO IS THIS FOR? The PTI is for anyone, of any age, but we will be giving priority to youth, racialized and low‐income folks. As mentioned the classes will be pretty rigourous intellectually, but please don’t let that scare you off. The language will not be overly academicized and as long as you like to read, think, talk and listen you’ll probably be OK. The one real requirement is that you are keenly interested in radical social transformation and come with a generous spirit ready to listen and collaborate.

WHAT WILL IT COST? The three weeks are priced on a sliding scale: $350 ‐ $500. This includes lunch six days a week. If you are coming from out of town, need a place to stay and want to kick down an extra $100 we will find you a good billet who will give you a bed and feed you. There will be a few bursaries available, but we are going to need most people to pay at least the minimum.

HOW DO I APPLY? Hit us with an email at institute@purplethistle.ca and we’ll send you a formal application and instructions.

VSB v. BC Ministry of Education or how neoliberalism operates in your own backyard

“Think globally and act locally” may be trite catchphrase, but thinking globally can give us insight into the current feud between the Vancouver School Board and the Ministry of Education.

Faced with a $16 million budget shortfall, the Vancouver trustees, who have a mandate to meet the needs of their students, have lobbied for more provincial funding to avoid draconian service cuts. The government has refused the request, and its special advisor to the VSB criticizes trustees for engaging in “advocacy” rather than making “cost containment” first priority. [Download the special advisor’s report here.]

What kind of governing principles demand “cost containment” as the prime concern of those charged with meeting the educational needs of our children? It’s called neoliberal globalization. It is the prevailing economic paradigm in today’s world and references something everyone is familiar with—policies and processes whereby a relative handful of private interests are permitted to control as much as possible of social life in order to maximize their personal profit.

The main points of neoliberalism will sound familiar to anyone who has paid attention to provincial government decisions on B.C. Rail or the HST:

  • Rule of the market, that is, liberating free enterprise from any restrictions imposed by government, no matter the social damage that results;
  • Cutting public expenditures for social services;
  • Reduction of government regulation that might diminish profits;
  • Privatization, selling government-owned enterprises to private investors; and
  • Concepts of “the public good” or “community” are eliminated, replaced with “individual responsibility.”

The structure of the provincial funding model for education follows from these basic tenets.

The VSB, indeed all school boards and other social services in the province, are now subject to the rule of the market, thus justifying “cost containment” as the first priority of those mandated to deliver education to the public. In this context, education is treated like any other commodity. Free market competition is viewed as the route to assure a quality product. And “efficiency” or “cost containment” is prized.

In B.C., government retains its authority over public education, but no longer undertakes the responsibility of assuring the educational well-being of the public. Instead, this responsibility is devolved to individual school boards.

It is no accident that when the province appointed the special advisor to examine the Vancouver board’s budget processes, it specifically excluded the key issue raised by the trustees and every other school board in the province, the structure of the provincial funding model for education.

School boards are now expected to become part of the market by relegating the educational needs of their communities and making the financial bottom-line the first priority. The recent trend in B.C. educational policy makes this point clear. School districts have been encouraged to create business companies to sell the Dogwood diploma overseas. Lack of provincial funding has forced school and district PACs into extensive funding-raising, accounting for almost 2 per cent of district operating budgets province-wide. International student tuitions are such a major source of income growth for some school districts that government has assigned a deputy minister to coordinate the sale of B.C. education internationally.

And now the special advisor’s report recommends that the VSB close schools, cancel programs, fire teachers, and raise rental rates on non-profit organizations that provide services, such as after-school care, which are in short supply.

The clash between Vancouver trustees and the ministry of education is not “just politics.” Rather, education policy in B.C. reflects the key features of neoliberal globalization, not the least of which is the principle that more and more of our collective wealth is devoted to maximizing private profits rather than serving public needs.

[For an informative overview of how neoliberal globalization works in schools see: Schuetze, H. G., et al., (2010). Globalization, neoliberalism and schools: The Canadian story. In C. A. Torres, L. Olmos, R. Van Heertum (Eds.), Educating the global citizen: Globalization, education reform, and the politics of equity and inclusion. Oak Park, IL: Bentham eBooks. Ross, E. W., & Gibson, R. (2007). Neoliberalism and education reform. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.]

ANOTHER CITY IS POSSIBLE: Come hear some of the best thinkers in Vancouver and talk about the future of the city

ANOTHER CITY IS POSSIBLE: Come hear some of the best thinkers in Vancouver and talk about the future of the city

A series of coffeehouse events hosted by Matt Hern and following up on his new book COMMON GROUND IN A LIQUID CITY: ESSAYS IN DEFENSE OF AN URBAN FUTURE. Each event will feature presentations by featured speakers and a short reading, with lots of time for conversation, questions and discussion. It’s a great opportunity to meet, talk, argue and consider the future of Vancouver with some compelling thinkers.

These events are all free. Please pre-register. You are welcome to just show up – but if you pre-register we’ll save you a seat – there are only 30 spots and they’ll all be full.

To sign up contact Matt Hern – matt@mightymatthern.com

SUNDAY, JANUARY 17th, 6:00 pm
Rhizome Café (Broadway and Kingsway)
All great cities have a certain flavour and vitality. How does a city get that life and vitality? How does Vancouver get some flavour?
-with-David Beers, Michael Geller, Joan Seidl, Marcus Youssef and Matt Hern

THURSDAY, JANUARY 28th, 7:00 pm
Riddim and Spice (1945 Commercial Dr. – at 3rd)
A great city has to take care of its people. But what does security mean? What is real safety? Who has a right to the city? How might Vancouver be designed so that ‘city air’ really does make people free?
-with-Am Johal, David Eby, Harsha Walia, Lance Berelowitz and Matt Hern

SATURDAY, JANUARY 30th, 7:00 pm
Riddim and Spice (1945 Commercial Dr. – at 3rd)
What is a great city? Should Vancouver even be trying to be one? What would a great city look like here?
-with-Frances Bula, Erick Villagomez, Gord Price, Carm Mills, Dustin Rivers and Matt Hern

SUNDAY, JANUARY 31st, 1:00 pm
The Purple Thistle Centre
(975 Vernon Dr. – at Parker)
A great city has to be an ecological city. What should urban agriculture look like here? What does ‘food security’ really mean? Can a real city feed itself – should it even try? Does ‘greening’ the city undermine its social vitality?
-with-David Tracey, Conrad Schmidt, Cease Wyss and Matt Hern and co-sponsored by COPE’s Freedom of Speech Series.


With Olympics Come New Laws to Sweep up Homeless

In an article for October 14th edition of The Tyee, Katie Hyslop describes how four recent Olympic host cities passed laws that criminalize homelessness and links this shameful portion of Olympic history to the Assisting to Shelter Act under consideration by the British Columbia legislature.

Here’s a sampling from past Olympics:

  • 1988 Winter Games, Seoul: 48,000 buildings housing 720,000 people were destroyed between 1982 and 1988 for the purpose of building highrise apartments and commercial buildings;
  • 1996 Summer Games, Atlanta: City officials in Atlanta used a combination of new and old legislation to criminalize homelessness in the city. From 1995 to 1996, over 9,000 homeless people, predominantly African-American men, were arrested for crimes such as sleeping in a park or on the street;
  • 2000 Summer Games, Sydney: The Homebush Bay Operations Act and Regulation passed in 1999 to cover Homebush Bay, the site of the Olympic Village and Park. Police and other officials were given the power to remove people from the area for vague reasons such as causing “annoyance or inconvenience” or using indecent language;
  • 2004 Summer Games, Athens: Law 2730/1999 concerning the planning, development and construction of Olympic works gave the government the power to expropriate land for Olympic use. Anyone living on this land was supposed to be given 24-hour notice to vacate, or face eviction. Houses or businesses on expropriated land were given up to 10 days to vacate the area.

The 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver has produced The Assisting To Shelter Act, which would allow “governments to clear the streets of the poor, homeless and addicted just in time for the tourists and cameras to arrive. The act would give Vancouver police the power to force a person to seek shelter when an extreme weather alert is issued. If there is no room at city shelters, people will be put in a jail cell.”

Of course, the BC government says they’re just concerned about the well-being of people who live on the street. You can read more about the proposed BC law here.

The 2010 Olympic games have prompted a series of laws aimed at undermining the civil liberties in the name of corporate profits and convenience, including bylaws that outlaw signage critical of the Olympics.

Check out the 2010 resistance groups at no2010.com and riot2010.com

Matt Hern has a new blog. You’ll be a smarter and better person if you read it.

Mighty Matt Hern is an East Van superhero and the chief Canucklehead fan. He writes about lots of interesting stuff: community, cities, learning, deschooling. He has a new blog. I think you should read it.

Look out for his new book, Common Ground in a Liquid City, from AK Press.